As a Father of two, ex-chef and knife nerd, I spend a LOT of time in the kitchen. I cook most of the meals for our family of four and often spend my days off meal prepping or baking cookies. It was inevitable that at some point, one of my kids would come running up, full of joy and excitement, asking to help.
If I’m being honest, this should have made me happy. I get to share the years of knowledge I picked up with my children, teach them how to feed themselves, and, at a selfish level, pass on snack duties to the kids themselves! But alas, the happiness turned to dread as I saw my eldest blindly grabbing at my Masashi gyuto, screaming, “I WANT TO HELP DADDY, I WANT TO HELP!”.
So, I figured I’d share some tips to help ease the stress of teaching your little padawans the way of the force so that they may start their journey to become a culinary Jedi.
Kitchen Knives & Cookware for Kids
Having the right tools for the job is something we talk about a lot at Knifewear, and this is no different. If you’re starting young, you may want a different knife than you would if your child is nearly a teenager, so I will list a few bits and bobs to get you all set up and ready to teach/learn.
The Skagfa Kids knife is perfect for those starting young; I use one with my three-year-old to cut soft fruits and vegetables. The design means you don’t need to worry about cuts or pokes and really let your child get used to making their food. While it’s not going to be sharp, so to speak, it’s a great tool to use while getting comfortable with safe techniques.
A little step up from the Skagfa knife, this bad boy from TOJIRO is a firm favourite of many of the knife-loving parents in our stores (as well as a few staff members, too!). The blade is sharp and sharpenable, featuring a rounded tip and heel to prevent accidental cuts and jabs. The handle is made of grippy plastic, measuring about 130mm, so it isn’t too big. This knife is fantastic for young’uns who want to help make a complete meal, as they can cut almost anything with it. Just remember: it’s super sharp, so proper knife safety is required.
A good cutting board can help with any knife, and the mini TOJIRO Paulownia board can give your child the genuine feel of being your little Sous Chef. They're off to the races with their board, knife, and apron. This board is lightweight, small and easy for them to carry to their favourite prep spot.
Another way to feel extra chef-y is an apron just for them, and the Kid’s Aprons from Medium Rare nail it on comfort and looks. Plus, cooking can often get messy, and if you have a kid, there’s enough laundry already without adding a tomato-stained shirt in the mix.
These gloves from Microplane are phenomenal. They are lightweight and can stop most kitchen knicks and scrapes, saving tears and building confidence to keep up the cooking journey. They also come in adult sizes and can be a dream when combined with a Chiba Mandolin!
Kitchen Knife Technique for Kids
So you’re all geared up: knife, board, apron, tenugui bandana to stop the sweat dripping into your eyes. Now it’s time to cut. Obviously, this is the more challenging part to get into. With the best will in the world, conveying the importance of knife safety to someone who just wants to jump in and start chopping things is never easy. Here are a few techniques to help start the journey towards safe knife usage.
Whether you're an adult or child, using a knife requires you to be calm and focused. Take a few deep breaths together, so everyone is in the zone when it's time to slice.
The first is a big one; you can practice the bear claw grip with your non-knife hand before even picking up a knife. It’s just like it sounds: by making a claw with your hand (the growling is optional but fun), you tuck your fingertips under your knuckles and out of the way of your knife. Try it a few times on the board and hold food before bringing the knife into the mix.
Gripping the knife safely
A critical step in safe knife use is properly holding the knife. Encourage them to pinch the blade just in front of the handle so that they have more control. The Tojiro knives have a little picture of a face you can aim for to know where to hold it.
Full disclosure here: I stole this from a customer and thought it was genius. When all set and ready to start chopping, ask your child to say “Knuckles” before each cut. It’ll make them think about the bear claw grip and check their fingertips are behind their knuckles before committing to a cut. Initially, it can be fun to say along with them, but over time, it can become a way of ensuring they’re thinking about what they’re doing even if you aren’t watching them. If they go quiet but you still hear chopping, it’s time to check-in.
Sliding vs Pushing
It doesn’t matter how sharp the knife is, most knives will always cut best when sliding from tip to heel or heel to tip. If you’re sliding the blade, you use less pressure than trying to guillotine downwards. Less pressure and a sharp knife mean that the blade goes precisely where you tell it to, and I’m sure we can all agree that it is a lot safer than pushing hard until it finally jumps somewhere close to what you were aiming for.
Cuts can and will happen. It's scary, but that's what we're here for as parents. It's our job to anticipate it, be prepared, and stay calm when it happens. Keep a first aid kit nearby with some Star Wars or Hello Kitty bandaids inside. Comforting them and using a cut as a teaching moment to help them improve their skills, rather than getting scared of knives, will make your little one more confident & capable in the kitchen.
This is by no means a perfect guide to getting your kids involved, but hopefully, it’ll be a handy tool to introduce your child to the ways of the knife safely and when you feel they’re ready to move up to a bigger and better Japanese knife, we’ll be here to help them pick.
Joining us from Manchester, UK, by way of Vancouver, Matt was introduced to Knifewear during the pandemic when West Coast Knife Nerd Ryan hooked up the kitchen with free sharpening (rewarded with a super sexy grilled cheese, of course). Since then, Matt has put his 10 years of kitchens behind him to get a grip (geddit?) on some awesome knives! Rocking some colourful tattoos, be sure to ask Matt about mid-west Punk, Pork Belly, and Pizza.
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